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20.3 Choosing the Correct Pronoun and Noun Cases

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize pronoun cases.
  2. Recognize noun cases.
  3. Learn tips for handling pronoun case situations that confuse you.

One feature that is easier in English than in many other languages is noun casesThe designation of a noun as a subject, object, or possessive.. While other languages have changes for the objective case as well as changes based on gender, English nouns do not change form except for the formation of plurals and possessives.

Pronouns in English, on the other hand, have different forms for the subjective, possessive, and objective cases. The subjective case refers to words as they are used in the subject position, while the possessive and objective cases designate words that are used in the possessive and object positions, respectively. Study the following table for an overview of the noun and pronoun cases.

Subjective Case Possessive Case Objective Case
Nouns
Singular
car car’s car
Jordy Jordy’s Jordy
Plural
apples apples’ apples
children children’s children
Pronouns
Singular
First person I my me
mine
Second person you your you
yours
Third person he his him
she her, hers her
it its it
Plural
First person we our, ours us
Second person you your, yours you
Third person they their, theirs them
Indefinite PronounsA pronoun that can be singular or plural.
anybody anybody’s anybody
everybody everybody’s everybody
someone someone’s someone

Relative and Interrogative PronounsA pronoun that is used to ask a question.

that that
which which
who whose whom
whoever whoever’s (slang) whomever

Tips for Avoiding Pronoun Case Problems

  • If you have trouble choosing between “I” and “me” in compound subject and object situations, remove the other subject or object, and try “I” or “me” alone.

    Example: Which of these two choices are correct?

    At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of Anna and I.

    OR

    At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of Anna and me.

    Test: At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of (I, me).

    Result: Since the correct choice alone is “me,” the correct choice within the compound object is also “me”—At Bryce Canyon, Carol took thirty pictures of Anna and me.

  • If you are confused about whether to use who or whom in a dependent clause, try isolating the clause that includes who or whom. Then reword the clause as a sentence and substitute a personal pronoun (subjective case: he, she, they; objective case: him, her, them) for who or whom. If he, she, or they sounds right, use who. If him, her, or them sounds right, use whom.

    Example: I don’t know (who, whom) to ask about where to stay at the Grand Tetons.

    Test: Possible rewording—I don’t know if I should ask (he, she, they, him, her, them).

    Result: Since him, her, or them are the choices that work, the correct choice in the first sentence is whom—I don’t know whom to ask about where to stay at the Grand Tetons.

  • If you are confused about whether to use who or whom at the beginning of a sentence, think of an answer for the sentence using a personal pronoun. Then mimic the case of the answer pronoun in the original sentence.

    Example 1: (Who, Whom) is getting up at sunrise to watch the sun come up over these magnificent trees?

    Test: They will get up.

    Result: Since they is subjective case, you should use who, which is also subjective case.

    Example 2: (Who, Whom) did you ask to watch the fire?

    Test: I asked her to watch the fire.

    Result: Since her is objective case, you should use whom, which is also objective case.

  • In casual usage, some words are sometimes left out, thus requiring a pronoun to do extra work. If you are confused about which pronoun case to use in these situations, think about how the sentence would be written if it were totally complete. Considering the whole sentence meaning should help clarify the pronoun choice.

    Example 1: Harry likes camping more than (her, she).

    Test: Harry likes camping more than she (likes camping).

    Result: The pronoun she is the subject of the assumed verb likes. So subjective case is needed.

    Example 2: Harry likes camping more than (her, she).

    Test: Harry likes camping more than (he likes) her.

    Result: The pronoun her is the object of the assumed verb likes. So objective case is needed.

  • If you are unsure whether to use we and us before a noun or noun phrase, say the sentence without the noun or noun phrase in place. Whichever pronoun works without the noun or noun phrase is also the correct pronoun to use with the noun.

    Example 1: Even (us, we) people who like our creature comforts fall in love with nature when viewing the Grand Tetons.

    Test: Even we fall in love with nature when viewing the Grand Tetons.

    Result: Once people who like our creature comforts is dropped out, it becomes clear that the pronoun needs to be subjective case.

    Example 2: Don’t wait for (us, we) creature-comfort people to come up with a plan.

    Test: Don’t wait for us to come up with a plan.

    Result: Once creature-comfort people is dropped, it becomes clear that the pronoun needs to be objective case.

Key Takeaways

  • The correct pronoun choice changes based on the usage in the sentence because pronouns have subjective, objective, and possessive cases.
  • In English, nouns are the same in the subjective and objective case. So all you have to know to write a noun correctly is whether it is singular or plural and possessive or not.
  • You can memorize tips and clues to help you remember pronoun case issues with which you struggle.

Exercise

  1. Choose the correct pronoun for each sentence. Then, for each choice, indicate whether it is subjective, objective, or possessive case.

    1. I don’t know (her, she).
    2. (Us, We) girls are meeting at 7:00 p.m.
    3. (Who, Whom) do you think will show up first?
    4. That car is (theirs, their’s).
    5. We aren’t sure (who, whom) got here first.
    6. (Its, It’s) about time we clear the air.
    7. The jacket fits him better than (I, me).